Democrats say Confederate monuments are now white-supremacist rallying points
Leaders voice support for taking down statues that spark racial tension.
WASHINGTON – Leading Democrats on Sunday morning talk shows defended moves by local governments to remove monuments of Confederate leaders, saying that the unrest in Charlottesville last week showed that the statues had become rallying points for white supremacists instead of educational tools about the nation's history.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said President Trump "got this wrong" when he expressed opposition to taking down commemorations to Confederate leaders. People don't need monuments to learn history, Cardin said on Fox News Sunday.
"You don't need a monument offensive to certain parts of our history being glorified in order to appreciate history," Cardin told host Bill Hemmer.
Cardin said he supports actions this past week in Baltimore and Annapolis to remove statues of Confederate leaders. "I think what Baltimore and Annapolis are doing is appropriate," Cardin said.
Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary under President Barack Obama, said that the monuments had become "rallying points" for white supremacists.
"I salute people taking down these monuments as a matter of public safety," Johnson said in an interview on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
Richmond Democratic Mayor Levar Stoney said on the same program that he had changed his mind about the presence of Civil War monuments to Confederate leaders. As mayor of the city that served as the Confederate capital, Stoney, who is black, said that he once thought the monuments could be "tools to teach and enlighten" people but that now he also sees them as "rallying points."
"This is what happens when we turn history into nostalgia," said Christy Coleman, head of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond.
Stoney also took issue with Trump's comparison of statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Though all were slave owners, Stoney said that Washington and Jefferson "did not take up arms against the United States of America."
"I appreciate the president's opinion," Stoney said. "But in Richmond I don't think that matters. We live here."
Trump provoked outcry from business leaders, Democrats and Republicans, and military leaders by failing to strongly condemn white supremacists and Nazis marching in Charlottesville. He said that "both sides" were to blame for violence there, which took the life of one woman. Further demonstrations took place Saturday in Boston, where white supremacists were vastly outnumbered.
Former congressman J.C. Watts (R., Okla.) urged congressional leaders to speak out against Trump's comments if they disagreed with them.
"This is not a time for us to be afraid of being tweeted," Watts said on NBC's Meet the Press. "This is not a time for us to suppress our convictions."
"If they're silent, they wear the cap . . . saying we agree with that," Watts added.
Trump "compromised" his moral authority by insisting multiple times there was hatred and violence on both sides in last weekend's Charlottesville attacks, Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation.
Scott praised Trump's speech Monday, in which the president condemned the white supremacists that attacked a crowd of counterprotestors – although the South Carolina senator said Trump should have delivered it directly after the attack instead of waiting two days.
But Scott said things then soured Tuesday, when Trump doubled down on his prior remarks that there was violence on both sides.
"His comments on Tuesday started to compromise that moral authority we need the president to have for this nation to be the beacon of light to all mankind," Scott said.
But Scott didn't express clear support for removing monuments to Confederate leaders. "I think that's definitely a local issue," he said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.) suggested his state could "do better" than the two people it chose to commemorate in Capitol Hill's Statuary Hall, where each state is allowed to place two statues. Virginia's two statues are of George Washington and Lee. Kaine suggested other candidates could include Pocahontas or Virginia's first African American governor, Doug Wilder.
"From 2017 looking backward, I think Virginia could probably do better in the two people we chose to stand for us in Statuary Hall," Kaine said.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN's State of the Union that Trump's response to Charlottesville was inadequate.
"You know, the real challenge, I think, and job for the chief executive, in a country where race has always been such a difficult conversation, is to do everything possible to bring our country together, to help make us a more perfect union," Schiff said. "And what the president did this week was as if he stood on a line dividing the country and pushed to separate one America from another with all his might. And that is not what this country needs."
Asked if Trump should apologize for his remarks, as former Massachusetts Republican governor Mitt Romney has urged, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich demurred, saying "in some ways we're looking backwards."
"Where I want to look now is what are we going to do to deal with the fundamental issues we have in the country? The issue of race. The issue of police and community coming together and developing policing methods that can unify," Kasich said.
Asked why Trump has difficulty condemning white supremacists, Kasich said he was heartened by Trump's response to the dueling rallies in Boston on Saturday. A rally by white supremacists there was overwhelmed by tens of thousands of people protesting against them.
"My understanding is the president came out and praised people, praised the police, praised the fact that the radicals were really marginalized, and that those who marched against hate, he praised," Kasich said. "I feel positive about what he had to say about Boston from what I understand in the news reports."
Kasich downplayed reports that he's moving closer to mounting a primary challenge to Trump in 2020, saying that he's "rooting for him to get it together."
Scott urged Trump to spend time with people who lived through the civil rights era if he wants to be able to speak with moral authority about racial issues.
"We need the president to sit down with folks who have a personal experience if the president wants to have a better understanding and appreciation for what he should do next," Scott said. "Without that personal connection to the painful past, it will be hard for him to regain that authority, from my perspective."
NBC's Meet the Press with Chuck Todd turned to one of the people who lived through the civil rights era, former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, who said that the past week had been "a week of misunderstandings."
Young said that "most of the issues that we're dealing with now are related to poverty, but we still want to put everything in a racial contest," he said.
"The reason I feel uncomfortable condemning the [Ku Klux] Klan types is they're almost the poorest of the poor. They're the forgotten Americans. They have been used, abused and neglected. Instead of giving them affordable health care, they give them black lung jobs."
He added: "They see progress in the black community and everywhere else and they don't share it."
Todd said that no one from the Trump administration would agree to come on the show to talk about Charlottesville.